Large food chains have created marketing narratives around this consumer demand: what was once a push for convenience above all in the 1970’s has developed into a movement towards healthy alternatives supporting ‘sustainable agriculture’ and ‘locally-sourced ingredients’.
Restaurant giant Chipotle developed their “Cultivate a Better World” campaign in 2011 which promotes their non-GMO ingredients, pasture-raised animals, and commitment to transparency. Last week they published the complete recipe for their guacamole. They even created an iPhone game which allows you to “bring real food back to the people” in a virtual world. Similarly, McDonalds launched “Your Food. Your Questions” last year, a campaign that answered hundreds of customer questions like where they source their potatoes and cheese curds, or how to make the secret Mac sauce at home.
QSR Magazine reported: “[Chipotle and McDonalds]—and the many others like it—are a reflection of a growing desire among consumers to understand the operating practices of the companies they buy products from… 85 percent of the Cone Communications/Echo study participants said it’s OK if a company is not perfect, as long as it is honest about its efforts. It’s transparency that matters.”
With transparency on my mind, I sought to explore the food integrity of Aroma Espresso Bars here in Canada.
Aroma Espresso Bar became the first espresso bar in Israel when it opened in Jerusalem in 1994. They now have 165 locations across six countries worldwide. Interestingly, Starbucks dissolved their partnership in Israel in 2003, due to “on-going operational challenges experienced in that market.”
Aroma’s first Canadian location opened in Toronto in 2007, which has grown to a total of 30 locations across Ontario. In Canada, Aroma is known as a healthy alternative to other fast-food coffee shops. So how fresh are their ingredients really? Are they locally-sourced? What’s the environmental impact?
A video revealing Aroma’s ‘Fresh and Hearty Factory’ in Israel
To start, their coffee uses a variety of beans from Central and South America, East Africa, and India. They are brought to the roasting plant in the Valley of Elah, southern Israel, which was opened in 2004. Aroma partnered with the Ballestra family from Naples, who have specialized in the production of gourmet coffee for several generations. The roasting machines in the Emek Ha’ela facility were developed in Italy. Due to that partnership, the factory roasts up to 20 tons of coffee beans per month, and they describe the roasting process as the most important stage in a coffee’s flavour development: “roasting releases oils from the beans, each with its own particular aroma, and thus infuses the coffee with the perfect body, softness and presence which leave a lasting impression.”
This video from Aroma Israel demonstrates the entire process:
After roasting, Aroma uses special packaging with unique valves to seal in freshness and allows the beans to release carbon dioxide as they travel to their destination.
Here in Canada, Aroma also offer drinks like hot Ontario apple cider (made seasonally) and London Fog, a drink which originated in Vancouver, BC and consists of Earl Grey tea blended with frothy steamed milk. At locations across Toronto they have also partnered with Pluck Teas, a premium tea company founded by Toronto-based Jennifer Commins. They use tea leaves from sustainably-managed gardens and certified organic sources and add, “unique local ingredients like Prince Edward County Lavender and grape skins from Southbrook Vineyards in the Niagara region.” They are blended and packaged by hand in a small batch blending facility downtown Toronto.
So far so good, but what about ingredients for their food? Beyond drinks, Aroma’s menu offers a range of sandwiches, salads, and pastries. They even have the Israeli dish of poached eggs in a tomato sauce called shakshuka and Bulgarian feta-filled bureka. It’s hard to say everything they use is sourced locally – particularly due to our short growing seasons, importing so much of what is consumed here, and a hefty price tag on whatever is left after that – but Loren Lieberman, the Director of Community Outreach, indicates that they use local suppliers in Ontario whenever they can. Of note is the fact that every one of the thousands of eggs used in Ontario branches is from Egg Farmers of Ontario.
Aroma also shows strong values for maintaining fresh ingredients, locally-sourced or not. Tali Salvador, a registered nutritionist and the Manager of Operations at Aroma, explained: “At Aroma we feel our greatest call to integrity and source of pride is that everything is made to order and prepared fresh. For example, when a customer orders a salad, that tomato is chopped at that moment for that specific salad. This preserves the nutritional integrity of the product. That tomato is full of nutrition – it hasn’t oxidized having sat on our chopping board for several hours (or worse: days).” Soups and salads are made to order with natural ingredients, no preservatives, no soup powders, and with no MSG. The eggplant is roasted in-store and their avocado spread is made in-house daily. Their latest promotion is a freekeh (the latest ‘supergrain’) salad which includes fire-roasted wheat-berries, organic baby kale, black quinoa, and a labneh Mediterranean cheese made from strained yogurt.
The Aroma bakery proudly uses dough that has been leavened naturally, without preservatives or food colouring, and is delivered to locations across the world to be baked fresh on-site every day.
Made-to-order, fresh food and drink means customization isn’t a problem. Vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options are readily available, and grilled tofu can be substituted for any protein. Drinks can be made lactose-free, or use soy and almond milk if requested. I’m always happy to see they have honey available as a sweetener.
As far as being environmentally-conscious, Aroma Israel participates in the Good Energy Initiative, where 100% of their organic waste is sent for waste conversion through composting and converting into feed for animals. They claim minimal air pollution impact: “the air pollution involved in moving the waste to landfills in the Negev is prevented, primarily preventing the release of greenhouse gasses involved in the normal process of organic waste burial. In addition, feeding goats and free range chickens with scraps from the production line saves production and transportation of industrial animal feed.” They have decreased the amount of paper in their napkins, saving 30 tons of paper each year.
Here in Canada, they use environmentally-friendly recyclable packaging including placemats, sleeves, cups and bags, and provide a discount to customers who bring in a reusable mug.
Overall, I am happy to see that Aroma is taking an interest in putting fresh ingredients, environmental-consciousness, and food quality at the forefront of their company values. With a growing movement of customers like me who want to know where their food has come from, restaurant chains should continue moving in this direction. To my fellow consumers: every time you make a purchase you are ‘voting’ for it. So visit a farmers’ market, buy organic or local, and support those with environmentally-friendly and sustainable initiatives – the market will transform along with our demand.
I encourage Aroma to take a step further towards transparency: release recipes, ingredient lists, and publish interviews with their farmers and workers. I urge Aroma to have a positive influence here in Canada by continuing to establish partnerships with local farmers and participate in more ‘green’ initiatives.
As the foodie movement continues to gain momentum, customers will be asking harder questions while giving you the opportunity to reap the rewards if you’re ready to answer them.
“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now”.